Six months ago nobody at the Southern Kings could have imagined that they would be taking on the northern-hemisphere in an expanded Guinness PRO14. Speaking exclusively to PRO14Rugby.org King’s skipper Schalk Ferreira takes us through the transition from Super Rugby to the playing fields of Europe and shares his hopes for the rest of the season.
A new league, a new continent and a new hemisphere – the early weeks of the Guinness PRO14 were always going to be tricky for the Southern Kings.
Rewind to September 1 and the South African side were handed the most daunting of introductions to the Championship – an away trip to the defending champions as they faced the Scarlets in Llanelli.
Beaten 57-10, the Kings got a clear idea of just what would be required to compete in the Guinness PRO14, but nearly three months on they have the chance to see how far they have come.
For skipper Schalk Ferreira – one of the few members of the squad with prior experience of rugby in the northern hemisphere thanks to a spell in France with Toulouse – there is no question it has been a steep learning curve with a squad thrown together at the last minute.
However, despite those initial difficulties, Ferreira believes the team are starting to find their feet.
Round Eight’s clash with Ulster certainly gave reason for optimism. At the Isaac Wolfson Stadium the Kings ran in five tries in a 43-36 loss, picking up their first two points of the campaign.
We are trying to develop our play and to create and offloading game. We have to be able to improve week after week and when you look at the Ulster game we had a chance to win that one
On the Southern Kings' ambitious style of play
Three weeks on and they will look to build on that performance as the Scarlets come to Port Elizabeth.
Ferreira explained: “The little break has helped us. Our coach (Deon Davids) believes more is more so we got a lot of work done!
“We are trying to develop our play and to create and offloading game. We had two weeks to prepare before the start of the season so we knew we were in for a tough start. We have to be able to improve week after week and when you look at the Ulster game we had a chance to win that one.
“It wasn’t just the game itself but a case of learning to adapt to the style of play in the Guinness PRO14. You have to get used to the scrum laws and how they are interpreted. That takes some getting used to but we’ve done well there, even against Ulster. That’s something we want to build on.”
For a loosehead prop like Ferreira, shoring up the scrum was priority number one, but discipline at the breakdown has been just as crucial.
Getting used to the way the game is officiated has been a challenge, but one the Kings are getting to grips with now.
Against Ulster they kept their penalty count to ten, and with Scarlets next up, Ferreira is confident the team are on the same wavelength with the men in the middle.
“The thing that cost us against Ulster was our error rate,” he said. “Cutting down on our errors has been one of the key points over the break. We’ve also had to work on our discipline, that’s been one of the biggest differences.
“We are improving in that regard though, against Ulster we had more penalties for us than we conceded so that was a good starting point.
“The teams in Europe are also very disciplined and play with a lot of structure. They know what you can do and what you can’t do at the breakdown so we’ve had to learn that.”
The introduction of the Kings and the Toyota Cheetahs has given Guinness PRO14 fans a closer look at South African rugby.
And while the Springboks and their rich history are very much a known quantity in Europe, the background of the Kings and rugby in the Eastern Cape remains something of an unknown.
Ulster got a first-hand look in Round Eight, playing in the smaller, atmospheric Isaac Wolfson Stadium.
I’ve been a bit surprised at how quick the game is in the Guinness PRO14. I thought it was going to be a bit slower after two seasons of Super Rugby but it’s been very fast-paced
On the high standards in the Guinness PRO14
This weekend it’s back to Nelson Mandela Bay, and while Ferreira might not be from the Eastern Cape originally, few can claim to have stronger ties to the Kings.
The 33-year-old has made 44 appearances for the team between Super Rugby and the Guinness PRO14, the all-time record for the team, and he is one of five players to have featured in every game to date this season.
He added: “I’ve been involved in this team in previous seasons and I’m really committed to the club. My family loves it in Port Elizabeth as well so I feel right at home here.
“You sense some responsibility as captain, and I try to bring my experience of northern hemisphere rugby to the team and to give my input.
“This league is a little like my previous experience of playing in the northern hemisphere. It was very similar in the European games, although the Top 14 is a bit different.
“That was a bit slower but I’ve been a bit surprised at how quick the game is in the Guinness PRO14. I thought it was going to be a bit slower after two seasons of Super Rugby but it’s been very fast-paced.”
Fast-paced is certainly an accurate description of the Scarlets – on Sunday the Kings will be able to show they are up to speed.